Bitter and Pale Ale

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Dynamicmoves, Dec 20, 2012.

  1. What exactly is the difference between the two?
     
  2. None. The names were used indiscriminately and interchangeably (and with IPA as well) for a very long time.The brewers sold their beers as Pale Ales but the customers called them bitters , eventually so did the brewers.Bass though has from the 1770s always been sold as a Pale Ale.
    Visitors to the UK may try some of our IPAs and find that they don't fit with their perception of that style.That's because of what I said in my first sentence , the names were used interchangeably in the past and some beers labelled as IPA are moderately hopped session beers. The temptation is to say that they are wrongly labelled but as they've been around for a century that can't be argued, they are an established part of the beer world.It's more of a flaw in the concept that all beers must fit into a style box.
    Pale Ale of course is a very wide general term covering an enormous range within which lie many sub styles such as IPA , the actual boundaries are extremely hazy and arbitrary.And which lead to endless discussion and argument; interesting but ultimately pointless as all these things are matters of opinion and interpretation.
     
  3. While you may be correct, it is useful for the OP to know that if a U.S. brewer is differentiating between the two, the bitter is probably going to be lower abv than the pale ale.
     
  4. But Pale Ale is the whole family of brews. It's like distinguishing between dogs and poodles.
     
  5. premierpro

    premierpro Savant (350) Michigan Mar 21, 2009

    What is the abv of Fullers ESB compared with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale? I do not think there is alot of difference.
     
  6. Cozzatoad

    Cozzatoad Savant (295) Italy Feb 2, 2011

    And in fact ESB means Extra Strong Bitter
     
  7. jesskidden

    jesskidden Champion (825) New Jersey Aug 10, 2005 Subscriber

    [​IMG]
     
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  8. Chinon01

    Chinon01 Savant (475) Pennsylvania Jan 23, 2007

    So Pale Ale includes a range of beers. A pub might offer an ordinary bitter, a best bitter, an extra special bitter (ESB) and a pale ale. All these beers are "pale ales" the difference being basically strength and hoppiness.
     
  9. Chinon01

    Chinon01 Savant (475) Pennsylvania Jan 23, 2007

    I believe in regard to ESB that special and strong are interchangeable.
     
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  10. BILF

    BILF Advocate (725) Israel Jan 9, 2010

    My experiences with american pale ale and english pale ale (including bitter) coupled with what I learnt in Beer 101 and from homebrewing a number of catagories both of the aforesaid lead me to offer the following observations:

    1. HOPS. The discerning diiference between an English Bitter of the same ABV as an American Pale ale is the bitterness and hop aroma. For example tonight I drank an O'Hara's Iirsh Pale Ale (an American Pale Ale) and a Fuller's IPA bottled conditioned tonight. The Amaerican Pal Ale was noteably hopforward and more bitter than the English IPA.

    2. CARBONATION. American Pale Ales are noticicebly more carbonated.

    3. SERVING TEMPURATURE. I can drink a bitter at cellar temperature but my American Pale Ales come straight from the fridge.

    4. MARKETING. I can't help but think how brewers from 150+ years ago would get qa chuckle from this question. Strong, Best, Special, Pale, Stout.......... are in my opinion slogos and catchcries.

    5. BEAUTY. Beuty is in the eye of the beerholder.

    Merry Xmas to all.
     
  11. Some interesting discussion here concerning English Pale Ale vs. Bitters.

    My ‘bible’ on Pale Ale (English style) is the book entitled “Pale Ale” written by Terry Foster; copyright 1990. So, this book is a little bit ‘dated’ but I think it is still relevant.

    As Terry wrote in circa 1990:

    “…. It should be clear from the last chapter that there is considerable overlap between pale ale, India pale ale, and bitter ale. You might think that the confusion of styles could be clarified by looking at the versions of those beers sold in England today. Surely the brewers know their own beers, and will have them labeled properly.”

    Not a chance! They are even confused more than we are! A survey of all the traditional draught beers offered by English brewers, under the names pale ale, IPA, and bitter reveals that there is a total of 461 such beers. Only 11 of these are called pale ale, with a mere five earning the IPA designation, the remaining being designated as bitter.

    Seven of those pale ales and two of the IPAs have original gravities below 1.035, despite the fact that history says the latter should be the strongest of the three. In contrast, there are no less than 30 bitters in the range 1.050 to 1.060. Of course a number of those bitters when bottled would be called pale ale, since many brewers consider the term refers only to bottled beer.”

    Terry then later provided profiles for Pale Ale, IPA and Bitter Ale. One of the distinguishing features between a Pale Ale and a Bitter Ale is alcohol level:

    · Pale Ale: 4.8 – 5.5% ABV
    · Bitter Ale: 3.6 – 4.5% ABV

    So, as regards alcohol level there is an overlap between an ESB (which has an alcohol range of 4.6 – 6.2% ABV per the BJCP style guidelines) and a Pale Ale (and IPA for that matter).

    In the quotes from the book I bolded a couple of sentences since I think they are important (and I happen to agree with them): you could go the ‘easy way’ and just say that a beer is a Pale Ale or a Bitter Ale if the brewery labels it as such. I disagree with this ‘easy way’ because I agree with Terry that the breweries are “even confused more than we are!”

    So, if you are drinking a lower gravity (lower alcohol) English Ale I think it is proper to classify it as a Bitter Ale; you can feel free to adopt some additional adjectives like Standard/Ordinary Bitter or Special/Best/Premium Bitter is you are so inclined. If you are drinking an English Ale in the 4.6 – 6.2% ABV range feel free to select the terminology that is ‘best’ for you: Pale Ale, IPA or ESB.

    Cheers!
     
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  12. So, what I gather is that the terms are confusing, however there are some characteristics that are different between the two. The companies that label them get the general idea, but are not always on target.
    Bitters tend to have a slightly lower alcohol content than Pale Ales, and so possibly lighter.

    At this point, the lines between Bitter and Pale Ale have been blurred enough that the names could be considered synonyms, and perhaps traditionally they were.
     
  13. Bitters originated as 'Real' ales - ales that are meant to be served without additional carbonation and close to room temperature. A standard Bitter is usually very low in ABV, then you climb the scale with Best Bitters onto Extra Special or Extra Strong Bitters. If you are trying to compare to an american pale ale there will probably be very noticeable differences both in ABV and in the hop profiles and balance of hops/malts in the beer, but as Jack mentioned above the brewers themselves have a hard time deciding what to call it when relating to other british pale ales. FWIW, I am a huge fan of "bitters" and traditional english ales in general
     
  14. jesskidden

    jesskidden Champion (825) New Jersey Aug 10, 2005 Subscriber

    I always went by this (from a simpler era, when there were about 2 dozen beer styles, not two thousand):

     
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  15. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poobah (1,345) Wyoming Sep 14, 2002 Verified

    The 5L can of Fullers Bitter from the Griffin Brewery I had back in the late 70s sure did taste like an IPA, not that I had a variety of IPAs to compare it to. None to be exact(I didn't discover Ballantine IPA til much later) but the bitterness of the brew is permanently embedded in my memory banks.
     
  16. Frankinstiener

    Frankinstiener Savant (395) Illinois Jul 28, 2009 Verified

    Here is Goose Islands take:
    Honkers Ale: English Style Bitter 4.2% abv and 30 IBU
    Green Line: Pale Ale 5.4% abv 30 IBU
    IPA: 5.9% abv 50 IBU

    The honkers ale is the most balanced and the lightest. The pale all has the same IBU's as the ESB in this case but has much more hops on the nose and a citrusy taste to it. Their IPA is technically an English IPA but tastes pretty standard to me.
     
  17. Reread what I wrote and you will understand what I meant. "If a U.S. brewer (singular) is differentiating between the two, the bitter is probably going to be lower abv than the pale ale". Is Fuller's and Sierra Nevada brewed by the same brewer? Not only was I talking about a single brewer, I also said U.S. brewer. Read and think before you type.;)
     
  18. Not in the U.S., where the OP is from. It is more like distinguishing between types of terriers. Some are bigger, some are stronger, some are _____, etc. I was pointing out that as a U.S. consumer, it would be useful to know that if a particular brewery had a bitter and a pale ale, well over 90% of the time the bitter will have a lower abv. Pretty simple and accurate.
     
  19. patto1ro

    patto1ro Advocate (535) Netherlands Apr 26, 2004 Subscriber

    He must be going by the names the beers were marketed under rather than the breweries internal names. PA is extremely common as a brewhouse name, often for beers whose trade name is Bitter. Young's Bitter for example, is called PA and Young's Special SPA. Then you've got Scottish breweries. 60/-, 70/- and 80/- were usually called PA 60/-, PA 70/- and PA 80/-.
     
  20. Following on from patto1ro's post it's necessary to distinguish between names and styles.Styles are a very recent concept and names sufficed before that.
    Take Best Bitter. BJCP style guide says "More evident malt flavor than in an ordinary bitter."
    Yet go into a bar in the UK and seek out a beer named "Best Bitter" and it will almost certainly be of session strength and the weakest bitter from the brewery.In fact I looked up "Best Bitter" in my beer guide and all those I checked were session bitters.
    Fuller's introduced a bitter of historical strength and named it "Extra Special Bitter" and even tried to trademark it.Just a marketing name, now it's assumed to be a style.Had they called it "Peacocks Glory" would that have become a style?
    As for Pale Ale, the term has been around since the 1600s for ales brewed from the new fangled pale malt rather than the older darker ones.A sort of umbrella description within which lies much variety.
     
  21. “Take Best Bitter. BJCP style guide says "More evident malt flavor than in an ordinary bitter."
    Yet go into a bar in the UK and seek out a beer named "Best Bitter" and it will almost certainly be of session strength and the weakest bitter from the brewery. In fact I looked up "Best Bitter" in my beer guide and all those I checked were session bitters.”

    I find it fascinating that Marquis is quoting the BJCP style guidelines. The year 2012 has indeed been a banner year! Marquis has quoted the BJCP style guidelines and he actually used the word craft in a previous post without utilizing quotes!!

    As it turns out the BJCP style guidelines are somewhat ‘historical’ in that it delineates a family of Bitter Ale sub-styles:

    · Standard/Ordinary Bitter: 3.2 – 3.8% ABV Example: Fullers Chiswick Bitter
    · Special/Best/Premium Bitter: 3.8 – 4.6% ABV Example: Fullers London Pride
    · Extra Special/Strong Bitter (English Pale Ale): 4.6 – 6.2% ABV Example: Fullers ESB

    A number of present day British breweries do not make separate Standard/Ordinary Bitter Ales vs. Special/Best/Premium Bitter Ales, so “the disappearance of weaker bitters from some brewer's rosters means "best" bitter is actually the weakest in the range.”

    So, in the Courage Bitter Ale product lineup the lowest gravity beer is Courage Best Bitter at an alcohol level of 4.0%. This beers is consistent with the BJCP style guidelines and at 4% ABV it certainly is a session bitter.
     
  22. I'd missed that caveat. But it isn't just present day breweries, when I began drinking in the late 50s , ahem, early 60s the cheapest bitter in the range was even then "Best Bitter", modern breweries don't often use the word at all. It's all fancy names or "Golden" or "Pale" these days.
    The expression "best bitter" is rarely used except in a name.The usual term for a bitter over 4% is "Premium" , when it's a bit stronger it's called "strong" But Timothy Taylor's describe their Landlord at 4.3% as a strong bitter.
    While quoting the BJCP I must mention this snippet;"Note that recently some British brewers have been using American hops (e.g., Cascade), but beers made like this fit better into the American pale ale guideline."
    Recently? As soon as these hops appeared they were put into bitters.It's an evolving or rather an expanding style and has absorbed changes as it always has.Those beers are definitely bitters and accepted as such.
     
  23. "Note that recently some British brewers have been using American hops (e.g., Cascade), but beers made like this fit better into the American pale ale guideline."

    That verbiage makes perfect sense to me. The location (i.e., US or UK) where a beer is brewed makes no difference to me. One of my favorite English Bitter Ales is Yards ESA on cask. That beer is brewed in the US (Philadelphia) but utilizes UK ingredients: Thomas Fawcett Pale Malt and English hops.

    If I were to drink an ale that has the citrusy flavors of Cascade hops (regardless of where it is brewed) that beer is an American Pale Ale.

    Cheers!
     
  24. premierpro

    premierpro Savant (350) Michigan Mar 21, 2009

    I appoligize for my ignorance!
     
  25. We'll have to allow it dual nationality then! It would sit on a British bar as a bitter and then become an APA over there.Two passports.
    Im sure you know this but other BAs may not. We've been using American hops in our beers for over 150 years though until recently they weren't particularly good and were relegated to bittering duties.Now you grow hops of excellence we're happy to use them in the star role.
     
  26. “We've been using American hops in our beers for over 150 years though until recently they weren't particularly good and were relegated to bittering duties.”

    Yup, those are Cluster Hops. I use them when I homebrew my Classic American Pilsners (Pilsners they made in America before Prohibition). Those are mighty fine bittering hops!

    Cheers!
     
  27. jmw

    jmw Savant (440) North Carolina Feb 4, 2009

    Except for the fact that it was coined by one brewery that identified it as meaning extra special bitter.
    At least you left the caveat of "I believe..." in there.